27th October 2021 • My Family Our Needs
We’ve all heard reports that owning a pet can do wonders for your mental health, however pets also mean time and responsibility. Here, MFON columnist Aoife Casson shares what her dog means to her, and how he makes a difference in her life.
I recently saw a post on Reddit asking people what the most underrated thing about having a dog was. There were a few standard responses like the noises they make and how cuddly they are. But in between these comments were people talking about how their dog was there for them in times of need, how they stayed with their owner when they were sick or helped improve their mental health.
“The way I can have an absolutely awful day, hating everyone and my life but I look at my dog and some of those bad feelings instantly go away. She’s also very sensitive to our feelings so she’ll give us extra attention when she can tell we’re not in a good mood.”– u/jasminel96
“The amount of love they give you. It’s not loyalty; it’s unconditional trust and love, the fact that they make you their world.”– u/HDJD2109
A 2012 study showed that looking at pictures of puppies and kittens could improve your focus, and a 2020 study found that watching a video of cute animals (in this case, quokkas) significantly reduced stress levels. So, if all you need to do to improve your mental health is watch some cute animal videos and follow a few dogs on Instagram, is there really any need to have a real dog? And, as an autistic person who spends a lot of her time managing her own disabilities, is having a dog really worth all the extra effort?
I usually tell people that Alfie the cockerpoo is my best friend. The truth is, I do so because there are no words that fully explain how much he means to me. Given my disabilities and my ever-present anxiety, my mental health tends to fluctuate quite a bit, often without me even realising. Yet somehow, he always knows how I’m feeling. He lays in bed with me for as long as I need when I’m feeling rough. He also isn’t afraid to stand on me and bark in my face if he knows I’m absolutely fine and need to just get up. I’m not a big outdoors person, and I know that, if I don’t have a dog, I won’t really go outside.
Alfie comes with his own responsibilities, he needs to be walked and let outside regularly, something he won’t let me forget! And no matter how rubbish I’m feeling, even if I can barely get out of bed, I always have to stop what I’m doing and feed him at 4pm (or earlier if he can persuade me).
Sure, having a dog is a lot of work, but he gets me out of my head when nothing else will. He keeps my feet warm when I’m feeling anxious in a virtual meeting. He licks up my tears and lets me know that everything will be ok if I just keep rubbing his belly.
So, what does Alfie mean to me as a disabled person? Well, he’s my best friend.
If you would like to know more about the practicalities of welcoming an animal into your home, whether as a family pet or specifically a support or assistance animal, it’s worth having a look at Dogs for Good and Dogs for Autism. You may also be interested in reading our article Could a dog benefit your autistic child? or hear Carly Jones’ account: Training our assistance dog during lockdown